Jimmy Heath

Born James Edward Heath in 1926, he is one of the exponents of one of the greatest jazz municipalities that isn’t New York City, Detroit, Kansas City, or Chicago—namely, Philadelphia. Aside from those tasty cheese-steak subs, Philadelphia has been a habitat that’s produced John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Pat Martino, Uri Caine, and Kevin and Robin Eubanks. Raised on the sounds of the great big bands—including those of Duke Ellington, Earl “Fatha” Hines, and Glenn Miller—and fueled by the then-strange new music that came to be known as bebop, young Heath was such an acolyte of bop prime mover Charlie Parker that at the tender age of 20, Heath—then an alto saxophonist—was known as “Little Bird.” Call it a good burden: “I liked the idea at first, but I wanted to be Jimmy Heath. So, I say, 'Well, I'll get the tenor and try this.'” In 1948, at 21 years of age, he performed in the First International Jazz Festival in Paris, sharing the stage with Coleman Hawkins and Errol Garner. But he had the urge to become what the Duke referred to as a “pencil cat,” composing (many great) tunes and writing arrangements. Parker himself played Heath’s original “Fiesta” and Miles Davis.


Jazz legacy.